“I started contemplating or doing my yoga from the age of four. There was a small chair for me on which I used to sit still, engrossed in meditation. A very brilliant light would then descend over my head and produce some turmoil inside my brain. Of course I understood nothing, it was not the age for understanding. But gradually I began to feel, “I shall have to do some tremendously great work that nobody yet knows.”
“Between 11 and 13 a series of psychic and spiritual experiences revealed to me not only the existence of God but man’s possibility of uniting with Him, of realizing Him integrally in consciousness and action, of manifesting Him upon earth in a life divine. This, along with a practical discipline for its fulfillment, was given to me during my body’s sleep by several teachers, some of whom I met afterwards on the physical plane. Later on, as the interior and exterior development proceeded, the spiritual and psychic relation with one of these beings became more and more clear and frequent; and although I knew little of the Indian philosophies and religions at that time, I was led to call him Krishna and henceforth I was aware that it was with him (whom I know I should meet on earth one day) that the divine work was to be done.” The Mother
The Mother was born Mirra Alfassa on 21st February 1878 in Paris. She was the second child of Maurice Alfassa, a Turkish Banker, and his Egyptian wife, Mathilde Ismaloun. Mirra was brought up free of all religious influence. Embroidered on little Mirra’s linen, sheets and clothes were her initials: MA.
Her early education was given at home. Her mother often told little Mirra, “You are born to realize the highest Ideal” and taught her the ‘discipline and the necessity of self forgetfulness in concentration on what one is doing.”
Along with her studies, she learnt drawing and painting in a studio and also music in which she became quite proficient. When she grew up, she made portraits in oil and other mediums and her creations were displayed in Art exhibitions in Paris. The mother of Mirra laid great stress on physical development and fitness. She was good at sports too, and learnt to play tennis when she was eight. Her much enthusiastic ambition led her to practice with accomplished players.
“I always went to the best players; at times they looked surprised but in the end they used to play with me- I never won, but I learnt much.” she said.
One anecdote from her early childhood is when she was about seven, there was a boy of thirteen years, a bully who always mocked at girls saying that they were good for nothing. One day she told him, “Will you shut up?” But he kept teasing her. Suddenly Mirra held this boy, lifted him up from the ground and threw him down with a thump although she was so much smaller than him.
At home, curious to know whether books would answer the questions she had, she read through her father’s 800 volume library. She was a voracious reader and would immerse in those thoughts while working. She loved taking long walks in the woods where she experienced extra sensory revelations. She loved nature, flowers and animals. She was serious and introspective by nature and all during girlhood, Mirra was aware of some force and light above her head. This descending light subsequently became a permanent aura around her head of which she was conscious throughout her life.
“Between the age of eighteen and twenty I had attained a conscious and constant union with the Divine Presence… all alone, with absolutely nobody to help me, not even books…There came to my hands a little later Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga- it seemed to me so wonderful a thing, you see, that someone could explain something to me. This made me gain in a few months what would have perhaps taken me years to do. Later I met a man. I was perhaps twenty one then, I think either twenty two or twenty- one. I met a man who was an Indian, and he spoke to me about the Gita. He said, “Read the Gita, and take Krishna as the symbol of the immanent God, the inner Godhead.” Well, in a month the whole work was done!”
Mirra, in the early century went to the town of Tlemcen in Algeria to learn occultism from a great Master Monsieur Theon who was a Polish Jew as she developed keen interest in spirituality. It was a period of intensive mental development leading to the realization of something luminous and true beyond the synthesis of all mental knowledge. During those years, she met the son and successor of Bahai religion and Alexandra Neel, the Buddhist traveller and writer. She translated from English to French parts of Buddhist texts, Isha Upanishads, Narada Bhakti Sutra, the Bhagwat Gita, sayings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and some other texts.
On 29th March 1914, Mirra arrived in Pondicherry, India from Paris with her husband Paul Richard in search of Truth. They met Sri Aurobindo, the great freedom fighter, intellectual, thinker and spiritual master. Later Mirra said,
“As soon as I saw Sri Aurobindo I recognized in him the well known being whom I used to call Krishna… And this is enough to explain why I am fully convinced that my place and my work are near him, in India”
In July 1914, the first world war broke out in Europe. She had to leave for France on 22nd February, though a year later she moved to Japan with her husband and stayed there for 4 years. She continued her correspondence with Sri Aurobindo till her return to Pondicherry on 24th April 1920, this time permanently.
Mirra to Mother Mirra accepted Sri Aurobindo with perfect surrender as her mentor and spiritual guide. She was devoid of rivalry or any trace of contest. Instead she had a deep sense of surrender to her future Master and to the Divine. There was a gradual movement towards the acceptance of Mirra by other sadhaks (aspirants), first an admiration of her as a fellow sadhak, then the recognition that she could herself give spiritual guidance as a delegate of the Master. As she assumed more and more of Sri Aurobindo’s responsibility of guiding the sadhaks, the Master was able to concentrate on his work of making a further ascent in the ladder of consciousness. She was directing the sadhak’s inner sadhana and organizing the outer life of the Ashram.
“In the beginning, Sri Aurobindo would refer to the Mother quite distinctly as Mirra. No one knows for certain on which particular date, at what auspicious moment, the word “Mother” was uttered by the lips of Sri Aurobindo. But that was a divine moment in unrecorded time, a moment of destiny in the history of mankind.” Nolini Kanta Gupta (a devotee).
Mother and the Ashram After the Siddhi day on 24th Nov 1926 Sri Aurobindo retired into seclusion and the whole material and spiritual charge of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was assigned to the Mother. As the number of sadhaks grew from 1927 and 1933, they were assigned some service or work that was being developed by Mother, such as building work, developing the farm, the garden, the nurseries, the bakery, paper making, perfumery, dispensaries, hospitals and a horde of other activities.
Sadhana through work, meditation and devotion was intensely pursued under her astute supervision.
Mother’s mission– On 5th Dec, 1950, Sri Aurobindo left his body. On that occasion, she explained,
“Sri Aurobindo has given up his body in an act of supreme unselfishness, renouncing the realization in his own body to hasten the hour of the collective realization. Later she said, “He had gathered in his body a great amount of supramental force and as soon as he left, it passed from his body to mine.”
The Mother after the departure of Sri Aurobindo, continued his work and was actively involved in the activities of the ashram. Its activities expanded especially those of children. A school was opened on 2nd Dec 1943 and after that the Physical education department. She guided the growth of the school and she herself took classes regularly, opened exhibitions, wrote and directed plays, attended sports competitions and she played tennis with great vim and vigor with others in the playground. Every afternoon, until 1958, Mother would leave the Ashram between 4.00 and 4.30 to play tennis in the tennis ground for an hour, before going to the playground or the sports ground.
“For us spiritual life does not mean contempt for Matter but its divinization. We do not want to reject the body but to transform it. For this physical education is one of the means most directly effective.”
On 6th Jan, 1952, The Sri Aurobindo International University Centre was organized which was later renamed Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in 1959. “School is just a preparation to make the students capable of thinking, studying, progressing and becoming intelligent if they can- all that must be done during the entire life and not only in school,” she believed.
Auroville- the city of Dawn was inaugurated on 28th Feb1968 . Another dream of Mother was realized- “that of a place which no nation could claim to be its own, a place where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence over satisfaction of desires and passions.”
Her contact with the sadhaks was maintained through the daily Balcony darshan, the talks in the playground and through correspondence and interviews.
There were three types of people who came to visit Ma or Mother as she was lovingly called. Firstly, those type who began their spiritual journey in their present life. Secondly, those who had embarked on the spiritual journey in some previous life before and lastly those who had already completed most of their journey and their little bit of residual karmas were left to be washed away. They would attain nirvana in this life, after which there would be no aimless wandering for them. Ma would give spiritual advice and her force to all of them who sought her and asked for directions for their ascent.
Sadhana of the body Though the Mother had to curtail her outer activities from 1959 onward due to her advancing age, she nevertheless remained in close touch with the many sided life of the Ashram community. She kept a ceaseless stream of correspondence with some of the sadhaks, and gave guidance and counsel to those in charge of the various departments and services from her room itself. Although the outer activities were reduced, her new life was still more busy than the life led earlier. It was life dedicated to the sadhana of the body. Sri Aurobindo had said that,
“The body could even be the base for manifestation of the Divine.”
The cells of the body had to be prepared for a radical transformation, and there would be the descent into them of the Supramental Consciousness. To bring about this transformation, the Mother was working on her physical consciousness and the cells of the body. In one of her conversations, she once revealed,
“For 58 years I have been working for the body to be transparent and as immaterial as possible, in other words, not to be an obstruction to the Force that is coming down.”
(To understand this concept go to – Mental Prosperity, A fine vessel, & Rays of Light
Conclusion Even as the Mother was engaged in the centenary celebrations of Sri Aurobindo in Aug 1975, her sadhana of physical transformation continued day and night. She was seeking to carry forward the work begun by Sri Aurobindo- to bring down the Super Mind into the body and ensure its manifestation even in the densest Matter. She had consecrated her life to the realization of the Master’s vision. Her dedication is beautifully summed up in the message she gave on her ninetieth birthday.
“I came to India to meet Sri Aurobindo. I remained in India to live with Sri Aurobindo. When he left his body, I continued to live here in order to do his work which is, by serving the Truth and enlightening mankind, to hasten the rule of the Divine’s Love upon earth” The Mother.
Dear readers, let me tell you that if you are a keen aspirant, Pondicherry is a very good place for our sadhana. Actually there is nothing like an ashram there, but you will find only the two samadhis– one of the Mother and the other of Sri Aurobindo built and fused together as one. This is the place to meditate because it is really dynamic and very charged. I try to make a trip whenever I can in order to receive Force to continue doing my sadhana or spiritual practices. Those of you who can make a visit to this holy and powerful site, must try to make it. If you silently call upon the Mother with a sincere & pure heart to call you to Pondicherry, your prayers will be heard. Praying at the samadhi with a strong intention will wash away forcefully the accumulated dirt and prevalent muddy layers of darkness very swiftly. People from all over the world do come here to seek her blessings to enhance their spiritual efforts.
Food for thought
My two most favourite books on the Mother are- Rays of Light and Sunlit Path. They are passages, selections of Mother’s sayings, messages, parts of interviews and conversations with people. I have selected just a very few for the the meditators and seekers like you who are seeking now. I hope these lines and this post will benefit you in many ways on your journey to self realization. That is my prayer to God as I complete my last post on this segment titled- Door to Heaven before I embark on a pilgrimage in a few days.
Rays of Light-
- Work as an offering to the Divine.
- To work for the Divine is to pray with the body.
- Consciousness develops best through work done as an offering to the Divine.
- Indolence and inaction end in tamas; that is a fall into unconsciousness; it is contrary to all progress & light.
- To overcome one’s ego, to live only in the service of the Divine.
- I make no difference between work and Yoga. Work itself is Yoga if it is done in a spirit of dedication & surrender.
- When one works for the Divine, it is much better to do perfectly what one does than to aim at a very big work.
- The progress in sadhana comes from the rectification of inner and outer attitude, not from the nature of the work one does-any work, even the most humble can lead to Divine if it is done with the right attitude.
Q- “What is concentration?”
A- “It is to bring back all the scattered threads of concentration to a single point, a single idea. Those who can attain perfect attention succeed in everything they undertake; they will always make a rapid progress. And this kind of concentration can be developed exactly like the muscles; one may follow different systems, different methods of training. Today we know that the most pitiful weakling, for example, can with discipline become as strong as anyone else. One should not have a will which will flicker out like a candle.
The will, the concentration must be cultivated; it is a question of method, of regular exercise. If you will, you can. But the thought, “What’s the use?” must not come in to weaken the will. The idea that one is born with a certain character and can do nothing is stupid.”
“I think the most important thing is to know why one meditates; this is what gives the quality of the meditation and makes it of one order or another.
You may meditate to open yourself to the divine Force, you may meditate to reject the ordinary consciousness, you may meditate to enter the depths of your being, you may meditate to learn how to give yourself integrally; you may meditate for all kind of things. You may meditate to enter peace and calm and silence-this is what generally people do, butwithout much success. But you may also meditate to receive the Force of transformation, to discover the points to be transformed, to trace out the line of progress. And then you may also meditate for very practical reasons: when you have a difficulty to clear up, a solution to find, when you want help in some action or other. You may meditate for that too.
I think everyone has his own mode of meditation. But if one wants the meditation to be dynamic, one must have an aspiration for progress and the meditation must be done to help and fulfill this aspiration for progress. Then it becomes dynamic.”
Concentrate in the Centre of Aspiration
“It is always better to concentrate in a centre, the centre of aspiration, one might say, the place where the flame of aspiration burns, to gather in all the energies there, at the solar plexus centre, and, if possible, to obtain an attentive silence as though one wanted to listen to something extremely subtle, something that demands a complete attention, a complete concentration and total silence. And then not to move at all. Not to think, not to stir, and make that movement of opening so as to receive all that can be received, but taking good care not to try to know what is happening, for if one wants to understand or even to observe actively, it keeps up a sort of cerebral activity which is unfavourable to the fullness of the receptivity- to be silent, as totally silent as possible, in an attentive concentration, and then be still.”
Meditate under all circumstances
“You may be engaged in the most active action, for example, in playing basket ball, which needs a great deal of movement, and yet not lose the attitude of inner meditation and concentration upon the Divine. And when you get that, you will see that all you do changes its quality; not only will you do it better, but you will do it with unexpected strength, and at the same time keep your consciousness so high and so pure that nothing will be able to touch you any longer. And note that this can go so far that even if an accident occurs, it will not hurt you. Naturally this is a peak, but it is a peak to which one can aspire.
Do not fall into the very common error of believing that you must sit in an absolutely quiet corner where nobody passes by, where you are in a classical position and altogether immobile, in order to be able to meditate-it is not true.
What is needed is to succeed in meditating in all circumstances.
And I call ‘meditating’ not emptying your head but concentrating yourself in a contemplation of the Divine; and if you keep this contemplation within you, all that you do will change its quality- not its appearance, for apparently it will be the same thing, but its quality. And life will change its quality, and you, you will feel a little different from what you were, with a peace, a certitude, an inner calm, an unchanging force, something which never gives way.”
My sincere thanks to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry for giving extensive information about Life and works of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother through their publications.
Passages and extracts from books- Sunlit Path, Rays of Light, The Mother.
One previous article which throws some light on Mother- The power of praying intensely